Traditional holiday bowls offer good match-ups

Dec 26, 2000 11:14 AM

Football and certain holidays are inseparable in the collective memories of Americans. Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day wouldn’t be the same without the gladiators of gridiron going at it in front of millions of people enjoying the action from the safety of their couches. Of course, Thanksgiving is known for the NFL action in Detroit and Dallas, but New Year’s Day is when the college game comes to the forefront of the American psyche.

With so many games on the first of the year (and limited space), let’s concentrate on the marquee games: the Gator Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. All feature teams that have spent time in the Top 10 this season, and at least a couple of squads that felt they should have been BCS bound.

Gator Bowl

One of those teams, Virginia Tech, played for the national title last season. They had high hopes heading into the season with spectacular Michael Vick at the controls. The Hokies lost only once this season, blown out 41-21 at Miami (Fla.), and that was without Vick.

Offensively, Virginia Tech is awesome. They averaged 40 points per game. The 21 points against Miami was their lowest total of the season. Vick didn’t have as good a season this year as in his freshman year, but with the major contributions of running back Lee Suggs and wide receiver Andre Davis, the Hokies haven’t missed a beat.

They take on Clemson in the Gator Bowl. Clemson won their first eight games this season before losing two of their last three. The Tigers were awful against the spread this season, losing their last seven games against the number after covering in their first three lined games.

Clemson is another top-notch offensive team, averaging 36 points per game this season. Quarterback Woodrow Dantzler was spectacular, especially early in the season. Running back Travis Zachery is a touchdown machine. The defense allowed just 19 points per game and less than three yards per carry. Future NFL star Keith Adams, middle linebacker, leads the way on defense.

Citrus Bowl

This features a fine inter-regional meeting as Michigan takes on Auburn. The Wolverines have played against an SEC team the last two seasons in bowl games. Last year, they defeated Alabama in the Orange Bowl in one of the wilder bowl games of the season. Two seasons ago in the Citrus Bowl, they defeated Arkansas handily.

Michigan has only given up 18 points per game this season, but they allow nearly four yards per carry and 152 yards per game on the ground. The strength of this Michigan team is on offense. Quarterback Drew Henson, running back Anthony Thomas and wide receiver David Terrell form what might be the most dangerous triumvirate in the nation.

Auburn began its year in fine fashion, winning its first five games before losing two in a row to Mississippi State and Florida, in the middle of the season. They responded by winning four in a row to make the SEC championship game, where they lost once more, to Florida.

Auburn is a fine running team. They averaged over four yards per carry, and over 160 yards per game on the ground. Rudi Johnson was the top running back in the SEC, no small feat in such a talented league. Quarterback Ben Leard didn’t have a great season, but he shows great touch at times and has decent pocket presence. Defensively, the Tigers allowed less than 100 yards per game rushing and had two shutouts this season.

Rose Bowl

The granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, will look very different next season. It’s slated to be the site of the national championship game next year, so play between the Big 10 and PAC 10 champs will be suspended for a season. So much for the "tradition" the BCS claims to uphold. This year, we’ll be treated to a fine matchup. Purdue, led by Heisman finalist Drew Brees, is making its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1966, while Washington has to feel slighted by the bowls.

Washington beat Miami this season and lost only to Oregon, on the road, in a close game. Watch out for both quarterbacks in this game. The Huskies’ Marques Tuiasosopo is a fine runner with a great arm and, better yet, a winner.

Fiesta Bowl

The last game of the day is the Fiesta Bowl, where the most storied program in the nation will take on one of the least storied. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame got into the BCS with their win over USC, which gave them a 9-2 regular season.

The Beavers lost only at Washington, by three points, while destroying the rest of the PAC 10. Both teams look pretty even, except in run defense, where Oregon State allowed just over 2.5 yards per carry; Notre Dame gave up over 3.5 yards per carry. Both teams hold onto the ball and score just over 30 points per game.

After a night of revelry, New Year’s Day is the perfect time to relax in front of the TV and watch football. With all of the games to choose from, bettors and fans have many options to begin their year happily.